Book Review: ‘Critical Conversations: Michael Pol Christian Theology’, ed. Murray A. Rae

‘Critical Conversations: Michael Pol Christian Theology’, ed. Murray A. Rae, Pickwick Publications, 200 pp. $20.00

In this volume, the thought of chemist-turned-philosopher Michael Polanyi is put into conversation with various aspects of Christian thought. Polanyi, largely due to (I suspect) T.F. Torrance, is generally seen as a figure congenial to theology, and these essays show the extent to which his thinking has proven useful here. For those unfamiliar with Polanyi, the first essay proper, by Tony Clark will serve as a solid intro to the basic contours of his epistemology (tacit knowledge, personal knowledge, passion, etc). All the distinctive aspects of Polanyi make an appearance here with an eye towards how these aspects apply to religious thought, although unfortunately the religious payoff is just under a page long and leaves much to be desired. As a general introduction to what makes Polanyi attractive to religious and theological thinkers, however, this is a worthy essay. The following essay, by R.T. Allen, is also extremely helpful in exploring Polanyi’s notion of ‘logical gaps’ which require heuristic passion to cross as well as showing the extent to which Polanyi appears to largely be Augustinian in his epistemology. Lincoln Harvey’s essay, which follows Allen’s, is also tantalizing in its suggestion of knowing as a social act or practice (I wish this had been developed further).

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Book Review: ‘Protestant Metaphysics after Karl Barth and Martin Heidegger’, by Timothy Stanley

Protestant Metaphysics after Karl Barth and Martin Heidegger‘, by Timothy Stanley, Cascade Books, $35.00 296 pp.

I must confess that of all possible reactions that seemed likely for me to have towards this book, being very impressed with it was not one I anticipated. After reading it and spending some time reflecting on it, however, I think it’s safe to say that this is a very important work. There is a lot of ground covered in these pages, at times in a fairly dense manner, but it is worth working through in a slow and steady manner. Interestingly enough, this book may be more of an exercise in Luther interpretation than of Heidegger-ian/Barth-ian metaphysics: the trajectory of both Heidegger and Barth is shown to turn on their respective interpretations of the German Reformer. This, to me anyway, shows that the interpretation of Luther is of primary importance for the question of Protestant metaphysics. Put differently, the question of Protestant metaphysics appears to be a question of Luther interpretation.

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Book Review: ‘Karl Barth’s Christological Ecclesiology’, by Kimlyn J. Bender

Karl Barth’s Christological Ecclesiology‘, by Kimlyn J. Bender, Cascade Books, 324 pp. $30.40

There are two big takeaways to this study. First, Barth’s entire way of theological thinking was profoundly christological and Chalcedonian – it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the bulk of this book serves to draw out that central theme in Barth’s thinking. Second, while Barth at first glance appears to neglect the Holy Spirit in his dogmatic thinking, this is an illusion readily dispelled by paying close attention to his ecclesiology. This is a dense, closely-argued and well-documented investigation, but close reading will repay dividends. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘The Only Sacrament Left to Us: The Threefold Word of God in the Theology and Ecclesiology of Karl Barth’, by Thomas Christian Currie

The Only Sacrament Left to Us: The Threefold Word of God in the Theology and Ecclesiology of Karl Barth’, by Thomas Christian Currie, Pickwick Publications, 196 pp. $25.00

In this volume, Thomas Christian Currie does a service to modern theology by unpacking, at length and in detail, Barth’s theology and ecclesiology of the Word of God. There is, in all actuality, probably no more misunderstood aspect of Barth’s thinking than these topics, and I wouldn’t hesitate at all to say that Currie’s study here should be required reading for anyone engaging Barth.  Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Calvin, Barth and Reformed Theology’, eds. Neil B. MacDonald, Carl Trueman

Calvin, Barth and Reformed Theology‘, eds. Neil B. MacDonald, Carl Trueman, Paternoster, 196 pp. $26.00

This collection of seven essays – six of which directly compare the theology of John Calvin and Karl Barth, with one focusing just on Calvin – might be some of the best engagement with Barth’s theology from a Reformed perspective I’ve read. As a word of warning, these essays for the most part clearly favour Calvin and Reformed orthodoxy over Barth, which should only upset Barthians (generally a good sign). Being such a slim volume is a strength here, as the authors of the various essayshave plenty of room to breathe and develop their themes. Since there are only seven essays, I’ll offer a brief reflection on each. Continue reading

Book Review: ‘The Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh: The Eucharistic Theology of Thomas F. Torrance’, by Robert J. Stamps

The Sacrament of the Word Made Flesh: The Eucharistic Theology of Thomas F. Torrance, by Robert J. Stamps, Wipf And Stock, 352 pp. $41.00

In this volume, Robert Stamps attempts a systematic exposition of T.F. Torrance’s sacramental theology. This had to have been a daunting task, given the massive number of footnotes from both well-known and very obscure writings by Torrance on the topic of the sacraments. This is probably one of the strengths of the book: the sources are handled superbly, and even folks who are somewhat familiar with Torrance are bound to read something of his they haven’t seen before here. This could almost serve as a primer for Reformed sacramental theology in general, since Calvin (and to a lesser extent Luther and Roman Catholicism) is a prominent conversation and at times sparring partner. It’s safe to say that I learned a good deal not only of Torrance but of Calvin’s understanding of the sacrament here.

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